Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Problem of Atheism

I am an atheist because I don't know what else to believe. When I was a Christian, a wavering of my faith anguished me. Now that the waver has long since phased into collapse, the old anguish is born again in new form. Instead of thinking "what if there is no God?," I think, "what can I believe in?" God is the answer for questions that defy answer. The question why eventually must end with the answer, because God. Without God as the answer to the unanswerable why, the question lingers. That there is no truly satisfactory answer despite millennia of inquiry suggests that perhaps the question becomes meaningless when applied to the fundamentals of existence.

When God is the answer, you can organize your life around basic principles like "Be nice to others (because God sez so)." Without the answer, you have an intuitive sense that good is good, reinforced/denounced by societies. And assuming the question is without meaning, what question should I be asking?

This metaproblem leads to more localized problems. I have especially been troubled by aspects of my godlessness in art and vocation. My next posts will explore these areas.


La Misma said...

No. 1 - What happened to your font? Is that illustrative of a general discombobulatedness you are feeling? Or an accident?

2, You're always extremely hard on yourself. Can you imagine an occupation (maybe social worker?) that doesn't seem godless, yet also has enough intellectual stimulation for you? But as for godlessness in art, that is the name of its game. We turn to art out of the pain of feeling the very emptiness you're writing about. The answer in art is not "God" (or rarely). It's experience, shared understanding, even just articulation of pain.

beckett said...

LM, thanks for the comment. I didn't mean to say that I wanted God into my work, but that deciding what my work should be would be a lot easier if a deity would inform me of what I should be doing. Likewise, with art.

I saw that you were praising Beckett recently. He made art for a long time without belief in much of anything. Some of his work is pretty clearly about the torment of creating in godless void, just as you say. I like the way you put it; almost as if we make art so that we can look to each other with a glimmer of recognition that "there is no answer, right"?

Oh, and the font is purposeful. I use courier at work everyday, si I've become fond of it.

La Misma said...

There is more than one way to get answers, though -- have you ever thrown the i Ching? It's quite thought-provoking, answers that are never simplistic but allow you to see aspects of your experience in their shifting dimensions.

If a being would tell me what to do, I'd be grateful too I think. I spend a lot of time wondering how you're supposed to decide anything.

Speaking of Beckett, I'm reading A Dream of Fair to MIddling Women -- his first novel. It's wonderful and funny and frisky -- a damn sight more entertaining than that later fiction, which, let's be honest... that's a hard slog. I started Molloy a while ago and after 17 pages or so without a paragraph break, of gloomy ruminations and bleak imagery, I lost my will to go on. I couldn't go on, and I didn't.

beckett said...

I remember from his bio he couldn't get Dream published and later regarded it as the misguided product of youth.

His novels are tough to get through. You know the next page will be as drear as the last, and there will not be so much as a whiff of hope as a reward for finishing.

I'm reading Ulysses right now. So far, it's a joyous read: almost antithetical to Beckett. Isn't Dream supposed to be Joyce-ian?

La Misma said...

I hope you'll see this comment. Yes, Dream is quite Joycean in places, which is probably why B. was anxious to suppress its publication. It's amazingly exuberant in its wordplay and even depictions of emotions like love, though there's always that dry Beckett humor undercutting things.

How're you enjoying Ulysses? I couldn't get through it, not for lack of trying. I made it about two thirds through. Isn't one whole section in French? But that didn't stop me from finishing The Magic Mountain.

beckett said...

I haven't hit the impenetrable sections yet, tho it's still a slow enough read. I can't read it when I'm tired, which means it's going to take a while. There have been certain passages in which I have been unable to figure out who is speaking or to whom. That's a bit annoying. He will write "Murphy said," once in a while. Why not do it just a bit more frequently?

Throwing the iChing strikes me as similar to opening the bible at a random spot to guide one through a time of trouble. I suspect opening a book of poetry might work just as well. Sometimes, the mind just needs somewhere to start in order to find itself

beckett said...

p.s. what's The Magic Mountain?

La Misma said...

Well, what about the magic coins (for the i Ching)? You don't believe in the power of three pennies to guide you to important truths?

I'm sure poetry would work just as well. Poetry is great for spiritual emptiness and other forms of despair.

The Magic Mountain is a novel by Thomas Mann. It's about tubercular patients at a spa in the mountains. It's awesome. Truly.